HELENA — Just over two dozen inmates and detainees at a private prison in north-central Montana have tested positive for COVID-19, prison operator CoreCivic said Monday.
Nearly 200 people at Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby were tested last Thursday and Friday and 26 of them tested positive, CoreCivic spokesperson Ryan Gustin said in an email to The Associated Press.
All inmates and federal detainees were asymptomatic at the time of testing, Gustin said. Those who have tested positive will be held separately from other inmates, Gustin said.
Blair Tomsheck, director of the Toole County Health Department, said last week’s testing involved close contacts of people who had already tested positive. Three employees of CoreCivic that work at the Shelby prison have tested positive and “are recovering at home,” Gustin said.
The facility can house about 700 inmates, but Gustin declined to say how many are there now.
Tomsheck said not everybody at the prison has contact with everyone else, but further testing will be done as needed.
Masks have been provided to staff and inmates since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended wearing masks in April. Staff are required to wear face masks unless they are eating or drinking while inmates and detainees are required to wear masks when they’re outside their assigned living areas, Gustin said.
Montana reported 306 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, including 31 in Toole County, where the private prison is located.
Montana’s total number of known cases has risen to over 12,400, 174 people have died and 158 people are hospitalized. The case numbers are thought to be much higher because not everyone has been tested and studies show people can have COVID-19 without having symptoms.
Health officials are tracking 3,400 cases of people who are currently infected with the coronavirus while 8,800 are considered to have recovered because they no longer test positive for the virus.
The number of cases in Montana continues to increase. The seven-day average for cases reached 209 on Sept. 22 and was at 285 on Monday after four days in which 300 or more cases were reported.
The latest increase in cases is believed to be caused by schools and colleges reopening along with outbreaks at congregate living settings such as long-term care and correctional facilities. There are also new cases tied to social gatherings, said Jon Ebelt, spokesperson for the state health department.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.